In the Media

Rejecting these riot appeals is no deterrent | Alan Travis

PUBLISHED October 18, 2011

The Facebook 'rioters' appear to have acted stupidly rather than violently. Upholding their excessive sentences achieves nothing For the lord chief justice, Lord Judge, the decision by the court of appeal to uphold the draconian four-year sentences on the Facebook "rioters" is "very simple" ? such severe sentences are needed to punish and deter. Indeed, in rejecting the appeals from Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan and Jordan Blackshaw, both in their early 20s, the court of appeal judges appear to be loading the blame for the "utterly shocking and wholly inexcusable" level of lawlessness seen during the riots on to their shoulders. "The imposition of severe sentences, intended to provide both punishment and deterrence, must follow," said Judge. "It is very simple. Those who deliberately participate in disturbances of this magnitude, causing injury and damage and fear to even the most stout-hearted of citizens ? must be punished accordingly and the sentences should be designed to deter others." He appears to be arguing that the four-year sentences are justified ? despite the fact that no one but the police turned up to their non-existent riots in Norwich and Warrington ? because of the "country-wide mayhem" that did take place elsewhere. Surely it is right that somebody who shouts fire in a crowded theatre should be convicted of spreading fear and panic. But shouldn't a judge be more lenient in cases where the audience almost completely ignores the shouter than in cases where 15 people are severely injured in the subsequent stampede? Worse than that, Judge not only appears to be sentencing Sutcliffe-Keenan and Blackshaw for the August riots as a whole but also for using "sinister" modern technology to encourage others to take part in the riots. Judge said it was wrong to suggest that their crimes were minor because they hadn't gone door-to-door encouraging people to riot. He said it was a "sinister feature" of these cases that modern technology certainly assisted rioters in other places. In doing so he has made clear that the decision to uphold these draconian sentences was not based on the facts of the actual case before him. Indeed his references in his judgment to "stout-hearted citizens" and general "ghastliness" suggest that he may not yet be fully up to speed on some of the nuances of the digital age. It seems as though for these judges Facebook and instant messaging are themselves in the dock. But this decision also sends out the message that deterrent sentences can work. Judge chairs the sentencing council whose guidelines clearly state that the sentence must fit the particular circumstances of the crime. They spell out in very great complexity how sentences must be tailored to the seriousness of each offence. Deterrent sentencing , even if it is ever justified, does not have a great track record. Passing 10-year sentences on single mothers from developing countries who are pressed into acting as drug mules has yet to curb the international drugs trade. The two men in this case appear to have acted stupidly rather than violently. A exceptionally heavy prison sentence inside an overcrowded prison is more likely to turn them into career criminals than a proportionate sentence. Even Daily Mail commentators have acknowledged that the original sentences in these cases were excessive and made clear that they expected them to be reduced on appeal. But I guess for Judge and his colleagues they no doubt are just a bunch of weak-kneed liberals. UK riots Court of appeal Crime Facebook Internet Social networking Alan Travis © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds